Verizon's moves are aimed at soothing mounting outrage sparked by the Santa Clara County Fire Department this week, which said that Verizon had throttled the data speeds of firefighters struggling to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire - what has become the largest wildfire California has ever seen.
The California State Assembly's Committee on Natural Disaster Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding is holding an informational hearing Friday on "The Verizon Wireless "Data Throttling" of Mendocino Complex Firefighters' Internet Access".
Bowden said when he requested that Verizon restore data speeds, the company instead offered a data plan that was nearly twice as expensive.
Rudolph Reyes, Verizon's west region vice president and associate general counsel, read a statement saying the company "didn't live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire".
Just days before the Legislature is to consider a controversial net neutrality bill regulating internet service providers, a Verizon lawyer told lawmakers that those kinds of regulations are "very unrelated" to a recent incident in which his company slowed down data speeds for Bay Area firefighters actively battling a major fire.
The multi-party lawsuit says Verizon's actions were a effect of the FCC's December 2017 repeal of net neutrality laws, which mandates equal access to all internet websites and allows the FCC greater control over internet service providers, like Verizon.
In that addendum, the Santa Clara County fire department claims that Verizon's speed caps affected an emergency vehicle that it used as a command and control point to help organize resources and people from across the entire state, and even the country, to help battle this wildfire.
Bowden said his department has encountered data throttling during three different fires, including the Pawnee Fire in Lake County this summer.
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The problem came to light this week in a brief that is part of a federal lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood and 22 other state attorneys general, arguing the Federal Communications Commission's 3-2 vote in December to scrap the previous net neutrality rules puts consumers at risk.
As of Friday, more than 415,000 acres have burned in the Mendocino Complex Fire. "We stand united and will work together to ensure this unsafe practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State".
"Responders rely on mobile connectivity to communicate response status, communicate orders, provide critical incident information, and develop action plans", said Bowden. Those rules are meant to force broadband companies to give all customers comparable service, and many critics have insisted they would have protected firefighters' internet access.
'While Verizon ultimately did lift the throttling, it was only after county fire subscribed to a new, more expensive plan, ' Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in the county's court filing. "In addition, we strongly encourage communications providers to waive data allotments in situations involving emergency response", she said.
Verizon blamed a communication error and acknowledged the fire department's normal service should have been restored more quickly than it was.
Verizon was allowed to throttle data plans under the old net neutrality rules, according to Gigi Sohn.
"I really truly hope that what comes out of this is a greater partnership in moving forward, that this does not happen again to any public agency", he said.